THE READING HOUR.
He that loveth a book will never want a faithful friend, a wholesome counsellor, a cheerful an effectual comforter.
It has been pointed out by a sane and lucid writer that a twenty-four hour day is a unit of time of infinitely greater value, and, it may be added, of elasticity, than we realize. The moment we learn how to apportion the hours of the day, as a man should learn to apportion the money he earns, we discover to our amaze ment that we are positively wealthy in time. As Charles Lamb said, on being notified of a pension and liberty, "It was like passing out of time into eternity." And we, too, will realize that we have time for everything, including the reading hour.
If we have a fair perception of what read ing it is best to pursue, and if we have learned somewhat the method of painstaking reading, the hour we can give to it, even infrequently, will become one of the distinct pleasures of life.
In an essay on books, Emerson had the cour age to set before his readers three rules for their guidance : 1. Never read any book that is not a year old.
2. Never read any but famed books.
3. Never read any but what you like.
The person who reads for pleasure, as well as profit, would probably feel compelled to dis regard rules one and two. In fact, if he obeys the third rule, he can necessarily pay but little heed to the others. The world of books is to readers not unlike the landscape to the observ er; every man selects and admires what most appeals to him; or, in other words, he finds in the book or the landscape what there is in him self. But he can do more than this if he will : he can find more in books to-day than he did yesterday, by endeavoring to find more in him self. To accomplish this is the logical purpose of the reading hour.
It may puzzle a busy man or woman how to find this hour. But men and women who have lived intensely active lives have done it to their pleasure and profit. An exceptionally inter esting illustration is that of Matthew Arnold, English poet and essayist.
Arnold was born in Laleham, England, in 1822. At the age of twenty-two, he became private secretary to Lord Lansdowne. From 1851 to 1881 he was inspector of schools, and for ten years he was professor of poetry at Ox ford. Though he wrote abundantly in prose and verse, his great value to the English peo ple lay in his work as a critic. His influence was elevating, and he succeeded in passing over to the typical Englishman an appreciation of that refinement which marked him as a man and a scholar.
Arnold made it his custom at New Year's to plan his reading for the coming year. He planned it, because time to him was a precious thing, and because he had so much to do that every activity had to be prepared for, and its place found and guarded. Arnold's plan con sisted in selecting one hundred books, in some cases portions of books, and making them the basis of his reading hours. This averaged nearly two books a week, a very generous al lowance to a man whose working day was filled with immediate affairs.
But the interesting feature of Arnold's plan is not that he proposed to himself to read a hundred books in a twelvemonth. The fact is, he rarely, if ever, succeeded in doing it. The practical value to any one of us, planning for reading or for anything else, is his evident con clusion: "A conscientious man will always realize something on a plan." That is to say, there will be a dividend coming to him. It may be large or small, but the joy of it is that scarcely any human circumstance can render a well conceived plan entirely inoperative.
Here, for instance, is the cluster of books Arnold laid out for himself on a New Year's day: Something of Homer, of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Plato, of Aristotle, Virgil, Horace, Cicero, of "The Imitation of Christ," Leo pardi, Tasso, Petrarch, of Goethe, Schiller and Heine, of Bossuet, Voltaire and George Sand, and a list of forty-three works in English, be ginning with the Book of Job and ending with the Epistle of St. Jude.